Is It My DNA? Can I Alter My Pattern of Thinking?
“Among other things, neuroplasticity means that emotions such as happiness and compassion can be cultivated in much the same way that a person can learn through repetition to play golf and basketball or master a musical instrument, and that such practice changes the activity and physical aspects of specific brain areas.”
― Andrew Weil
What is neuroplasticity?
In simple terms, it is the ability of the brain to rewire itself and form new connections and pathways.
Scientists are beginning to realize that the brain has the ability to be highly flexible, rewiring toxic thoughts and learning patterns. We have the ability to train our brains from a propensity of negative to positive thinking.
Many think, that our DNA defines who we are and how we think and that there is very little we can do about it. With the field of neuroplasticity, we are invited to rethink and challenge our ideas and indeed realise that we are not victims but major players in the choices of thinking about our lot. As Dr Caroline Leaf says, “We literally shape our brains according to the choices we make”
Neuroplasticity is a vast field, so I decided to concentrate on the aspect relating to our choices in life, our attitude if you like! Whether we choose to view things in a positive or negative way. Why is this important and how can it benefit my clients?
We are visual creatures, so when I am dealing with a particular thought pattern, say negativity in someone, instead of bombarding them with science, I show them a picture (see below) which shows how by changing our outlook on life we can reinforce and strengthen a new pathway in the brain. The more they practice with different mental tools to help build resilience, the more likely the brain is to choose this new pathway when life gets tough. The old negative ways of thinking become the ‘R roads’ if you like!
“Neurons that fire together, wire together” D.Hebb
I was listening to an interview recently on BBC Radio 4 with JohnBoy Smith about his experience about being shot at the age of 16 in 2006 and left instantly paralysed. His life was changed forever. But he rose above every negative thought and obstacle, turning things around to his advantage and becoming a commonwealth silver medallist. He used sport as a conduit to reconstruct his life. This interview must be up there with one of the most positive people I have ever listened to.
So why am I mentioning him? Well because, the average person who is faced with this sort of adversity would tend to throw in the towel and look for people to blame in their situation – he chose a different mental mindset and a different pathway of thinking.
How can you begin to change your way of thinking?
Some Ideas for Developing ‘Positive Neuroplasticity’
- Start each day (before hopping out of bed and reaching for the iPhone) with making a mental list of all the things to be grateful for in life, no matter how small. It could be something as simple as having warm water for taking a shower.
- Don’t start the day by turning on the news. Reduce your exposure to negative events. This will decrease the activation of areas in our brain which trigger stress.
- I enjoy reading my editor’s daily tweets on the good things that are happening all around us. Yes Nial, I do read them.
- Listen to music that puts you in a good space. I personally take a few minutes every morning to listen to the birdsong outside my window.
- Morning mediation can help build mental resilience.
- Immerse yourself in nature as often as possible. The Japanese people visit forests as part of a therapeutic practice to still the mind. It is called Shinrin -Yoko or ‘forest bathing’
- Get enough quality sleep. The brain’s housekeeping occurs whilst we are asleep. Harmful toxins are removed, repairs are made, and new neurons are formed at night. Your brain needs sleep to reset vital connections which are crucial in the areas of memory and learning.
- Consider thinking positively wherever possible. As Weil says in the quote above “A person can learn through repetition”. This could be practiced by giving others the benefit of the doubt. Making paradigm shifts. The person who cut you up in traffic, may be rushing to see someone in hospital. They don’t know you and it’s not personal.
Some unusual facts about our brains (University of Queensland Brain Institute)
Whilst doing my research on the human brain and neuroplasticity, I came across some amazing facts on the brain. So, I picked out a few of the 10 mentioned that were new to me & possibly you:
- Our brains have a 100 billion neurons – about the same number of stars in the milky way galaxy. The synapses connect these neurons and here’s the exciting bit, these connections are not fixed, they can change with our experiences & allow us to learn from them
- Signals in our neurons can travel at the same speed as a formula 1 car – 360km/hour.
- Our brains are hyper efficient, running on only 20 watts of power. To put this in perspective, a computer needs 65 – 250 watts. Ponder this, for a computer to simulate the 100 trillion connections of the human brain in real-time, it would need 12 gigawatts – around 600 million times the power! It is true what is said in Psalm 139:14,’ we are fearfully and wonderfully made!’
- I have often heard it said, that we only use 10% of our brain. Well here’s the thing, the brain is the most energy intensive part of the body using 20% of our energy which is amazing if you think, that it only accounts for 3% of our body weight.
So, I put it to you, given this brief blog on a vast area of science; do you think you can retrain your attitudes in life, or do you think that your path is fixed because of your DNA?
Have I stirred up a hunger in you, to at least explore this field in a bit more depth? I am still learning.
What new neuronal pathways will you choose to form, reinforce and strengthen?
*Giselle Marrinan is the author of the book, ‘Another Zero’ published in November 2018.